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There is something wrong with the couch.
Well, that’s not entirely truthful. There’s something wrong with the right side of the couch. It wasn’t like this when I got it, and I should know- it was the first new piece of furniture I’ve ever purchased. After slumming it for years like the starving college student I was, I had felt as though I were cementing my actual adulthood by purchasing a comfortable, non-lumpy, brand-new piece of living room furniture.
Unlike my second-hand couches of the past (which were covered with bedsheets to protect guests from the phantom butt-residue and very real old food stains of their previous owners), my new, three-seated suede couch (with bonus storage drawers built into the bottom!) was mine to unwrap from the box, crinkling plastic and styrofoam in my hands with glee. And that new couch smell- ahhh, nothing like it.
But I began to notice things after only a week. Objects began to go missing in the apartment, which is odd, since I’m the only one with opposable thumbs who lives there (Henry, my cat, doesn’t count as he is far too lazy to be malicious). I rarely have visitors, as many of my college friends have moved on to other cities looking for work while I stayed behind, working part time at the local library and doing some instruction in the computer lab at the nearby elementary school. At first, I thought that I had simply misplaced my remote control. After all, watching TV and sitting on the couch go hand in hand. But after five days of finding the remote shoved down the right side of the couch, even though I favor the middle or the left (due to the positioning of the living room and television), and even after I made doubly sure that the remote was left on the television stand the night before, I began to feel a vague sense of dread prickling down the back of my neck whenever I found the remote in the same position, with the buttons to the side against the right armrest, in the folds of the couch.
I began to have the strange, dreadful feeling that one day, I’d reach my hand down the side of that couch and my hand would brush against something- something that shouldn’t exist, that shouldn’t be down the side of a couch or anywhere on this Earth for that matter, and the thought began to pick at my sense of solace and calm while at home- which is the pride and joy of anyone who has finally escaped the clusterfuck that is shared housing with other slobby college folks.
My keys began to find themselves down the side of the couch as well. I always, always, always, always hang them up on the hook next to the entrance hall. I am not the sort of person to leave them in my pockets or on a fob on my belt loop. Yet, the keys would be gone in the morning and in my frenzied rush to get out the door, I would have to turn, run to the side of the dreaded couch and plunge my hand quickly, like a kingfisher spearing a minnow, and retrieve my keyring. I became adept at this technique; flattening and sharpening my hand into the approximation of a spear and then lining my arm up with the armrest and plunging my hand down into the crease as quickly as possible to retrieve whatever item was sure to be down there. It was as though I was gearing up to shove my hand into a pot of scalding water, not soft and inviting couch-material.
I am certain this little maneuver appears silly, and would have been embarrassed had anyone seen me (bored looks from Henry as he groomed his paws non-withstanding), but in practice, it would be all I could do not to have a panic attack once I got elbow-deep.
Two weeks after I purchased the couch, I began to notice a sizable lump protruding from the top of the rightmost cushion that wasn’t always there. Whenever I was at least twenty or feet away from the couch, it appeared to have a lump, and by lump, I mean to say that it appeared as though someone had sliced a globe in thirds, taken the top third and sewn it under the cushion until the fabric began to stretch tautly against it. Of course, as I got closer to the couch, the lump seemed to disappear altogether. It never moved and I never noticed it disappearing, but somehow, by simply moving closer my eyes could no longer see it.
I didn’t dare to touch it, and tried to convince myself that it was a trick of the light, that I was just seeing things, but It didn’t help me to control the lurch that I felt in my stomach every morning as I walked down the hall from my bedroom in dread at seeing it. My hair was coming out in patches. My eyes were rimmed with red and black from lack of sleep.
It had to go.
I called the furniture store. The line was disconnected. I went to the store’s location to speak to someone. There were big CLEARANCE and GOING OUT OF BUSINESS ALL SALES FINAL signs out front, and when I peered in the windows, the floors and walls were completely bare.
I placed ads on the local give-away website, trying to find someone to take my couch, but everyone who came to look at it saw it wrong. One couple said it was bright red and at least a foot shorter than they had expected- that it didn’t look ANYTHING like the picture or dimensions I had posted. One man, who appeared to have absolutely no taste at all, finally decided to take it, but somehow, no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t seem to fit the couch out the front door. It was all angles when we needed curves and curves when we needed angles.
Finally, after nearly an hour, the man left with a huff of frustration and a few choice swear words directed at me for wasting his time. Henry began to spend more time outside, only coming in for meals and when bribed with catnip. He refuses to touch the couch, not even to sharpen his claws.
I desperately began to invite friends over to stay, but even when one would finally agree, none would sleep on the couch. They’d make excuses- either it was too lumpy or too hard or too short or too..something, anyway, so I purchased a foam mattress to unroll in my bedroom. My guests did not like the living room, especially with the lights out. I couldn’t blame them.
I worked late- I picked up an additional job in the evenings tutoring children and helping them with homework. Then I’d eat dinner, go out for a late movie and try to get home as late as I could get away with and still function the next day. I began to ask friends if I could stay over with them. I couldn’t tell them why. People began to look at me like I was going mad, and I wondered if they might be right. I mean, a couch, of all things! It’s not even remotely malicious or dangerous like a knife or a blender or even a computer- a couch has no moving parts, no blades, no memory or CPU- it is an inanimate object. When I told myself these things, I felt silly, overly dramatic and foolish. There were people out there in the world sitting on milk crates or out in the cold with no shelter whatsoever, and here I was, acting like a paranoid fool about a COUCH.
A month after the couch had arrived, I began dreaming in an endless loop. I’d wake up to a bright morning, get dressed, walk down the hall and the living room would be dark with only a slight ambient light as though someone had placed a candle somewhere in the room. No matter how many lights I tried to turn on or flashlights I brought with me, it was no use and I could barely see. I tried to look around and see my surroundings, but my head felt impossibly heavy and I couldn’t lift it. My eyes were staring at the ground and I desperately wanted to look up but felt a wave of nausea and dread at the thought of it, my neck powerlessly bent over, nose pointing at my feet.
That is when I heard it, a deep, thrumming noise, coming from the couch. It was like a purr, punctuated with the sort insect-like trilling that comes from deep within the nest of bees. I didn’t want to go closer, but my body began to move, shuffling reluctantly as I screamed in my head to run away, to move, to grab something that to use as a weapon- anything. The noise would get louder as I got closer, and I knew it could see me, that it knew I was there.
The noises changed then, and I heard something slither, or skitter or move a large weight of something substantial and wet.
I feel something slide up my leg.
I am blinded by light.
I scream, but it’s like I’m drowning as well and no sound comes out, just a choked wail.
I wake up again in the dream. I dread what will come next but am powerless to stop it.
And then I wake up.
I pinch myself and swear at the pain. I know that I am awake. It’s daylight outside and I’m in my bed, but oh god, I can’t be in my bed because I was visiting family over 6 hours drive away and there is no way I could be here, yet I am here. The door to my bedroom is closed. I get up, get dressed. I feel a sinking feeling in my stomach and look around my room for something, anything that I can use for a weapon. All I can find is the curtain rod, and I’m fairly certain it’s a hollow aluminum anyway, but it’s better than nothing.
I open the door a crack and waves of muggy heat pour into my room. Even though it is light outside my windows, I can see the inky blackness of the hallway and the living room and I began to feel faint and nauseous. I know what I have to do. I know what comes next. I hear the purring drone in my head, in my bones, in my very soul, and I feel my sanity shatter into stardust, or possibly something more ancient. Perhaps I chose it or it chose me- I can’t rightly say.
But I can see now that I have no more choice in the matter than an ant who trudges in a pheromone line, blindly bringing food back to its queen.
It is hungry.
I open the door and step into the darkness.